It is fair to say that asset and wealth managers have had a pretty rough ride in the last 24 months. There’s been intense competition led by industry-wide M&A, blending asset managers into a homogenous landscape difficult to carve a niche in. Then in 2020, a market event like no other, forcing firms to rethink operations across a remote workforce and face a more demanding investor base than ever before.
In this new operating environment, where investor confidence is rattled and client retention is less of a safe bet, there is one certainty: Digitalization of client communications holds the key to delivering a superior client experience. This will not only help firms stand out in today’s uniform market, but also deliver asset and wealth managers a competitive advantage. An advantage that marks the difference between staying afloat and thriving.
Empowering client communications in a crisis
We’ve seen over the past year that communication and engagement are essential in times of heightened volatility. What hit firms harder during the COVID-19 pandemic was not only the demand for custom and ad-hoc reporting, which hit new highs, but also a changing expectation towards communication.
Stemming from an evolving investor base, the buy side is seeing a generational shift that spans across high net worth individuals and institutional investors. This new generation is setting the bar far higher than the one before it. Today, client communications is no longer judged on portfolio performance alone, with mode and frequency of communication being equally important.
In an increasingly competitive and demanding market, firms need to deliver a diverse and detailed range of institutional mandate reporting and other client facing materials, far more regularly than traditional reporting frequencies. What’s more, with investors using on-demand technology in every aspect of their lives, asset and wealth managers cannot afford to be the exception any longer. Bringing communications and reporting into the digital age for a more compelling client experience is now a must.
We know that remote working is set to be the status quo for the foreseeable future and firms cannot shy away from the ‘anytime anywhere’ access to data their investors want today. Mckinsey & company recently noted that “nearly all organizations, whether traditional companies or start-ups, are reorienting their business models to be more digital” and that it is “highly likely that consumers will prefer to use many of these digital offerings after the crisis.”1
And there is value in doing so. Asset and wealth managers will be remembered by their actions both in and after this crisis. Providing more context and confidence, firms have a significant opportunity to adapt to a digital client communications platform and introduce the use of interactive tools and self-service portals, that will not only significantly reduce operational friction, but create a client experience that can differentiate them above their peers.
Overcoming operational hurdles through digital transformation
The rationale for digital evolution can be found in a recent survey conducted by Aite Group; Client communications: The stumbling block to next-gen client experience?2, which found as many as 65% of the 23 global firms participating, admitted their current operations are struggling to keep up with investor needs for more frequent and granular data, available on-demand. Despite this, of the 23 participating global asset and wealth management firms, only 22% were actively reviewing their current client engagement model. These firms are investing in digital portals and interactive reporting tools to provide their investors enhanced engagement.
This leaves the vast majority of firms falling into a false economy when it comes to investor expectations for client communications. Failure to act now will only see asset and wealth managers falling into a critical investment gap that could hurt their future growth. The main findings of the Aite survey underline a lack of active client engagement, a reliance on the status quo and near-term cost concerns, as a threat to digital innovation in the industry. However, the arguments for harnessing a digital strategy, far outweigh these concerns and demonstrate just how vital it is to take action now.
Overhauling redundant processes and empowering a remote workforce
If we take a snapshot of the current market, inadequate client reporting has cultivated a lack of flexibility in asset and wealth managers being able to respond to rapid change. Much of this is caused by disparate and inconsistent data sources and a remote workforce that has made data-gathering a conundrum. The heavily manual nature of client reporting, together with high instances of data errors and reconciliation, has not only overwhelmed resources in the pandemic, but for some firms led to a compliance nightmare.
To date, firms have taken a short-term view throwing people at the problem to solve the issue, but in leaner times this is no longer a sustainable option. Firms now have an opportunity to take a proactive stance, using client experience as a way to create growth and build resilience. Core to addressing this operational challenge, is a digital platform that can deliver one single version of the truth. Together with intuitive workflows and open integration, a digital platform can offer consistent and transparent client communications. The goal is not to replace, but empower the workforce by solving redundant and ineffective processes and creating the scale and automation needed, to improve control and deliver a superior customer experience.
Digitalization is not a fad, and we know just how quickly the industry can go from staying on top to playing catch up. No firm can afford to be a laggard in this tough climate. This is less about fixing broken parts and more about staying one step ahead of a trend that is only going to get bigger. To adapt in this evolving market, firms need to adopt cloud-based technologies to create the agility needed in their communications, to retain satisfied clients and move quickly to capture new opportunities.
Meeting investor needs through consistent client engagement
In the Aite survey, despite participants noting that the number of RFP’s including questions on digital capabilities had increased, 38% identified cost and challenges in creating a business case ,as one of the top barriers to investment, while 69% claim their firms’ inactivity stems from a lack of explicit demand. What’s concerning about this perceived lack of demand is that only a quarter of firms (27%) actually carry out regular client surveys.